A wide spot in my imagination.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

God as Western Union Boy?

Dear Pat, Glenn and Michele:

I hope it's okay that I use your first names. Your chatty TV sermons, radio broadcasts, and stump speeches give me a first-name-basis kind of feeling. If not, please insert Rev. Robertson, Mr. Beck, and Congresswoman Bachmann. Call me Tim.
Now that the niceties are over with, loosen up. Or at least, let God loose.

Last week, each of you told us what God was up to. Rev. Robertson, you said that the East Coast earthquake was a sign from God. Mr. Beck, you said that Hurricane Irene was a "blessing." And Congresswoman Bachmann, you said that the hurricane was a message from God.
Your comments shouldn't be a big surprise. After all, Mr. Robertson, a few years ago you blamed a hurricane in Haiti on someone's pact with devil. And you agreed with Jerry Falwell when he blamed the September 11 attacks on the ACLU and others. Mr. Beck, you compared the Norwegian kids who were shot at summer camp to Hitler youth. And Mrs. Bachmann, you blamed swine flu on Democrats and Jimmy Carter, even though it first popped up when Republican Gerald Ford was president.
But this go 'round you all three spoke for God. And wrongly, I think. In the process you trapped God, limited God, confined God.
You trapped God with old-timey images. By portraying God as using the elements for vindictive purposes, you echoed some of the language of the Bible, where God kills to send a message or uses the sun as a weapon. Yes, those images are scriptural. But they were written by people who thought the earth was flat, who thought leviathan lives in the ocean, who thought giants roamed the woods, who thought that cutting off the enemies' foreskin was good public policy. So, yes, the ancients thought God used bears and winds and rivers to send messages. But that picture of God is more like Zeus than like the One Who Was And Is And Ever Shall Be. You've trapped God on a flat-earth or up on a cloud hurling lightning bolts. Let God loose among the particles of physics and the dust of galaxies and the iPods of today.

You've also limited God to the job of messenger, sort of like Hermes or the Western Union boy. Your God just tosses around natural disasters to warn and punish or say, "Look at me." Free God from her day job to live as full-time Mystery, Ground of Being, the Great I Am.

Third, the image of God you present is, well, just plain mean. Granted, Congresswoman Bachmann, you said your words were just a joke. But still, the idea of God who kills children, destroys buildings, and ruins lives? Ouch. The writers of the Bible mention God's steadfast love hundreds of times. God is gracious and kind and slow to anger, the words says. Part of the Bible even uses some pretty sexy talk to describe a God who is intent on some pleasureful stuff. (Now that would get your ratings up in the polls, people.) And my favorite sentence in the Bible simply says, "God is love."

So, Pat and Glenn and Michele, thanks for reading. Let God go.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In the event of a hurricane, don't call Ron Paul

Ron Paul is an interesting fellow. The Libertarian-leaning Republican Congressman and presidential candidate is often lauded for being honest, authentic, clear-thinking and the like. His bluntness often leaves political-watchers shaking their heads.

And with Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, Mr. Paul did not disappoint. He says that we don't need FEMA or any other federal response to the hurricane. He said, "We should be like 1900." Then he mentioned Galveston, which was battered brutally by the 1900 hurricane.

At worst, Mr. Paul's ideas come across as uncaring. If your fellow citizens -- in Texas, along the East Coast, wherever you aren't -- suffer, too bad. You can help them if chose, but you're under no obligation if you think they don't deserve your money. Or if you're just not interested. Let 'em fend for themselves, Paul seems to be saying.

On another level, Congressman Paul missed out on some history. His implication is that we don't need federal assistance for disasters in 2011 because we didn't have it in 1900.

Granted, we didn't have FEMA. And we didn't have the Internet, cell phones, weather radar systems and the other things that go into modern day storm-chasing and storm-fleeing. But Galveston did have federal help following the 1900 hurricane.

The advance warning of the hurricane was less than a day. But that warning came from the U.S. Weather Bureau -- a federal entity. The federal government helped save lives.

Congressman Paul's comments also seem to imply Galvestonians happily facing that storm on their own. Not so. Major Lloyd Randoloph Dewitt Fayling coordinated the relief effort in Galveston. At the time, Major Fayling said, “The situation demands federal aid. It demanded it from the very first…. The disaster is so great and so terrible no municipal authority in the country could be expected to handle it unaided.”

And the federal government responded. The United States government sent money, supplies, and army troops -- troops who did some of the things that FEMA and other aid workers do today.

And, after the hurricane subsided, it was the federal government -- specifically the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- who built the first seawall to protect Galveston from future floods.

My hunch is that many people in Galveston were glad to see their federal dollars at work saving lives, giving aid to the devastated, and rebuilding their city in safer ways. Seems like that's what a government should do.

So, Congressman Paul may actually be right: "We should be like 1900," where individuals, city officials, state officials, and federal officials all chip in to help in the event of a natural disaster.

But if I'm ever faced with a hurricane pressing down on my house, I don't think I'll call Ron Paul. He may not feel like helping that day. Oh, and he might not have had a phone in 1900 anyway.